These Wee Small Years

My feet ran through the thick grass, looking for a place to find cover. 

“Eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Ready or not, here I come!” I heard my oldest daughter call out.

As I dove behind a short cypress around the side of the house, I was startled by a flash of red darting from the tree. Waiting for my daughter to find me, I carefully peeked between branches, finding at last what I was seeking: a small nest with three tiny, nearly featherless chicks nestled inside. These baby birds couldn’t have been more than a few hours freshly hatched.

When small footsteps rounded the corner, I raised a finger to my lips and beckoned my daughter over with my other hand. I hefted her seven-year-old body onto my hip, noticing how she’d seemed to suddenly grow immensely bigger. Pointing into the tree, we gazed together at the tiny birds, their small beaks turned desperately towards the sky. We scurried out, leaving momma Cardinal space to return. But each day, we quietly crept near the nest, and if momma was out, we’d take a quick look.

“Their eyes are open now!” my five-year-old would exclaim one day.

“Look at all their new feathers!” her big sister would notice the next.

“Baby bird!” my own baby would squeal with excitement every day.

They grew and grew and grew so much each day until their fuzzy little bodies could barely be contained by the cluster of sticks they called home.

A week after we first found our little Cardinal chicks, after I had tucked the girls into bed and settled at my desk overlooking the yard, I noticed a small movement in the grass. Dashing outside, quickly but carefully, I knelt down in the grass, until I saw it again. And sure enough, the small grey-brown baby bird was fledging; attempting it’s awkward hop-flap as red streaks of mom and dad dutifully darted through the air. I pulled the girls from their beds, led them outside, and we watched in amazement as these week-old baby birds learned to fly.

It happens so quickly.

My kids are young – one, five, and seven. And in these wee small years, as I like to call them, it often feels like nothing happens quickly. Corralling them to get shoes on is an hour-long effort, a quick errand is a full day endeavor, and bedtime drags late almost every night. The days seem to stretch endlessly and roll on monotonously. It feels like I’ve always been in these wee small years, the years where they are so little and helpless and needy and messy and utterly in and on my mind and body every second of every day. It feels like I will always be here, amongst these small hands and chubby bare feet.

It feels like motherhood will always consume me.

In a couple weeks, I’ll turn thirty-five, which got me thinking about what the next five years of my life might look like. I realized, that by the time I round the bend on forty, these wee small years will be behind me. I’ll have a six-year-old, a ten-year-old, and a twelve-year-old. And suddenly, I thought:

It happens so quickly.

I’ll no longer pick up a child in my arms each day, savoring the solidity of their small selves. I’ll no longer see the creases and dimples in their wrists and hands, those beautiful markers of babyhood. I won’t need to give anyone a hand as they walk and run and climb on their own. I won’t feel the weight of them pressing into and on top of me as they vie for a spot on my lap during reading time. I may not be the first person they call when they need help, and their problems may not always be ones I can solve. 

Their tiny hands won’t grasp at my skin as if their very life depends on it. Their bodies won’t fit perfectly into the crooks of my own to find comfort. They may no longer constantly call me to play or watch or listen. Their hair won’t hold the honey-sweet scent of baby shampoo, and they may not have the patience for me inhaling their essence as if my life depends on it.

And all of a sudden, these handful of years I have left to cherish the smallness of my children feels as fragile and fleeting as a baby bird, just waiting to fly away. Each first may be a last, each moment passing more quickly than the one before. And it feels so bittersweet. Because of course I want my babies to fly, but I don’t want to wish away these years I have left with them under my wing. 

I know I won’t cherish every moment, because that’s an impossible expectation to lay upon a mother just trying to make it through the intensity of these wee small years. But some moments, I can stop and simply notice. Between the overwhelming frustrations, I can allow myself to soak in the awe of it all. I can sit with them in the pastel twilight of the morning, even as disappointment about my lack of rest and quiet courses through my tired veins, and we can find magic there listening to the first birdsongs together. With each flutter that streaks across the rainbow sky, I’m reminded of the days that dart away. But for just this moment, I can hold on. I can surrender to this season and remember, for better or worse, it won’t last forever.  

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